Microsoft debuts visual tool for non-programmers

Wizard-based tool will let those without programming skills build apps

Microsoft is readying a tool that will let non-programmers develop desktop- and cloud-based business apps.

Called Visual Studio LightSwitch, the tool is wizard- and template-based, allowing business users and solution builders that lack programming skills to build apps. LightSwitch is based on Microsoft's flagship programming environment for enterprise developers and partners, Visual Studio.

Jason Zander, corporate vice president of Visual Studio at Microsoft, launched Visual Studio LightSwitch during the opening keynote of the VSLive! Conference, taking place this week on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash. campus.

Visual Studio LightSwitch generates code based on Microsoft's .NET application development environment. LightSwitch aims to close the gap between full-feature .NET application development and the ad hoc applications and solutions built with Excel, Access and SharePoint.

The wizard-driven interface of LightSwitch provides a code-free app building experience designed to appeal to business power users, according to Zander. "Everything is designed on top of .NET as the core technology," Zander said. "If you want it to grow up and add new features, pop it into Visual Studio Pro and you are up and running."

The keynote demo by Microsoft's Orville McDonald drew numerous rounds of applause, as he showed how the environment can streamline repetitive and vexing development tasks from a simplified visual interface. McDonald also showed how LightSwitch developers can quickly tie together disparate data sources in an application, including a local database, a remote SharePoint list and a cloud-based SQL Azure database.

One of the characteristics of LightSwitch is its focus on business utility. LightSwitch presents business savvy native data types like e-mail, phone numbers and money, providing automated validation and in-field formatting of these types.

Zander also discussed how LightSwitch allows developers to defer deployment decisions, so that an application can be targeted for Windows, Windows Server, Windows Azure or a browser platform at the end of the process, rather than having to be shaped from the start for a specific platform.

Zander said a beta of Visual Studio LightSwitch will be available for download from the MSDN site on August 23.

About the Author

Michael Desmond, former editor at large of Redmond magazine, is the editor in chief of Redmond Developer News magazine.

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